You came back to Cardiff and I know it was a difficult time for you with the passing of Gary Speed, which had a knock on effect on your marriage. What was your frame of mind at the time and was the move driven by the need to be back in Cardiff more than anything else?
At the time, I was going through a divorce, and anyone that’s been through a divorce will know how difficult it is. It’s a nightmare. I had a young daughter who I wanted to see more of, but in footballing terms, it was more about the chance to be involved in something. It was not all about me coming here, it was about being part of a squad that are going to be able to push for something this club has never achieved before. That was the motivation for me.
Malky was top class. He said that there was no pressure on me and that we wouldn’t get promoted because of me, but I would play my part. Speak to the players and let them see what you do as a professional because these boys work hard. They don’t have all the ability, but they train every day with intensity and every day was tough. I knew having played against them with Liverpool that this was not a team that you want to play against.
How did you feel about the rebrand? The majority were in favour, initially at least, driven by a desperation to play in the Premier League, but it nearly killed the club.
I sort of switched off to it. You play in loads of different kits, so I sort of treated it like that. It’s just a kit, don’t get emotional about it or look too much in to it. The way I looked about it is that the city and the community were going to get the chance to be on top, but I completely understood where there fans were coming from on it. Your colours are your colours.
It’s tribal how you feel about your team, but at the same time, if Vincent Tan doesn’t get what he wants and pulls out, where would we be then? I always believed we would go back to blue and that’s the truth, but for this period, lets just do what we’ve got to do. As players, you just get on with it. It’s for fans to dictate what happens to their club. The rest of us represent the club, but we’ll be gone. Your supporters will always be there and they will get their way in the end.
Cardiff ripped through that season, led from the front and won the title quite comfortably. What was different from your first spell? Presumably, everything!
Everything. The attitude and the mentality. I remember that when Cardiff usually dipped, we lost at Peterborough, who were fighting for survival, and I said to Malky; ‘let me take the team talk today.’ I think we were playing Blackburn the next day. I just said; ‘don’t worry about what happened, it’s gone.’
‘Teams will win and lose, but the group of players we have, it’s not like previous seasons. This is completely different. We’ve seen everyone in this league and we will get promoted, but you have to keep training hard. Blackburn will take care of itself. We will get enough points, but we have to keep believing.’ I felt it and we beat Blackburn 3-0. We run over them.
We had one or two players that were falling off and they had to be dropped. If you look at Whitts, he didn’t play much towards the end of the season. I was close to Whitts, we lived next door to each other and we shared rooms, God rest his soul. Maybe the hangover from previous seasons was starting to affect him.
We loved him him and he was probably one of Cardiff’s best ever players, but we maybe needed Aron Gunnarsson, someone who runs hard and is not affected by what has happened before. We played one game at a time and we won some games playing awful. I remember we went up to play Neil Warnock’s Leeds, and we didn’t play pretty football by the way! We won 1-0, but we were both just leathering it!
The irony. That was our future!
I remember me and Whitts on the coach after the game saying ‘that’s not football!’ Three points though. On to the next one. That was our mentality and Malky was brilliant at that. One game at a time and don’t look too far ahead. If we only get a point, it’s a great point.
How did you find working with Malky? He was adored at the time, but has been pretty much airbrushed from history
I loved him. His attention to detail, for opponents and post-match, was very good. He had a certain way of playing and that was what he knew. It wasn’t great for the likes of myself, but I was just another player. I still had to track and we were beyond dangerous at set-pieces. We got promoted off set-pieces if you think about it. What I liked about him was his dressing downs. If you did something wrong, he saw it and he would tell you. Even myself. Some people probably thought I was off limits, but I wasn’t.
I remember I came back from the Olympics, my calf had popped and I just felt tired. I said to him that I didn’t think I had a gruelling season in me and he told me to take two weeks off. Go away and come back fresh. I was back in 10 days, but he could see what you needed. Even if he had a go at me, he would pull me in the next day and tell me why he had to.
I like that because if you don’t, I’ll know you’ve let me off and that’s doing me no favours. The players needed to see it as well. If he has a go at me, he can then have a go at them. I’ve got no problem with that and I enjoy it. He was good at man management.
If you look at his time in Cardiff, he got to a League Cup final and the play-offs, with a team that started off with about six or seven players and a transfer embargo. Then the next year he won the league. In two and a half years, it was ridiculous what he did. Incredible. A lot what went on afterwards and I don’t really know about.
There was a clear falling out, but I just wish they could have found a solution. People who talk negatively about Malky, I can’t have it. I respect the owner as well and he’s ploughed a lot of money in to the club. They worked well together and had a huge impact, it’s just a shame that it all imploded because we all lost out.